It’s show time
From Edinburgh to Exeter and beyond, cows are being shampooed, ponies’ manes plaited and bowlers dusted. The air is redolent with hoof oil, stain-remover and blow-drying. Granny’s fruitcake recipe is unearthed, terriers are taught new tricks and jars of marmalade are labelled. Gardeners stare impatiently at canes and beds, expecting runner beans to spiral, marrows to burgeon and dahlias to sprout in front of their eyes. Chelsea, with its Great Pavilion housing flowers from some 90 exhibitors, is this week’s big event (see a review in our May 30 issue), the royal Bath & West is next.
The village fête—from the old French word for feast or holiday—has been staple countryside entertainment for centuries, but it was the Victorians who, as dog and other pet ownership became fashionable, really got into the idea of breed standards and showing. They founded the Kennel Club, numerous herd books, studbooks and breed societies, plus the Peterborough royal Foxhound Show, the Great Yorkshire Show and the first RHS flower shows.
For a nation known for its calm anticipation and acceptance of sporting defeat, as well as the polite receptions we give to visitors from overseas when they win at the games we invented, we’re still curiously competitive about showing, whether the exhibits are fancy fowl or cucumbers.
The summer agricultural shows, still essential jolly days out for isolated farmers, are much more than opportunities to dust off the best bonnet and have a few beers. A Hereford bull upholding his commercial value and his farm’s honour with a red rosette and silken garland matters just as much to the commercial cattle breeder as the length and straightness of a runner bean to an amateur gardener.
There will be mutterings and outbursts, teeth will be gritted, hands reluctantly shaken and, as Jason Goodwin warns (Spectator, page 106), nervous judges in retreat. Let the best man—or marrow—win.
We are the champions
Another thing Britons are strangely competitive about is setting records. This month, oxfordshire gardener Kevin Nicks was declared the owner of the world’s fastest shed—more powerful than some sports cars and with pot plants adorning the dashboard—achieving 101mph on a Carmarthenshire beach.
Britons hold world records for the most naked people on a funfair ride (102, if you must know), the heaviest onion (18lb 1oz), speediest beer-mat flipping (1,000 in 41.6 seconds), fastest Munro climbing (24 in 23 hours 6 minutes), bog snorkelling (60 yards in 1 minute 22.56 seconds) and the longest Shakespeare recital (110 hours, 46 minutes). No one can say we don’t try.
We’re curiously competitive about showing, whether it’s fancy fowl or cucumbers
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